If you’re familiar with the Texas Gulf Coast, you know that our beaches draw big crowds—especially places like South Padre Island, Galveston, and Corpus Christi. What you may not know is that in the bays between the beaches and the mainland of Texas are hundreds of tiny islands that make ideal homes for nesting and migrating birds.
Texas is fortunate to have these small, secluded bay islands because they provide a space for birds to nest, rest, and feed far away from the disturbances of people. However, we’re in danger of losing many of these special islands to sea-level rise and erosion caused by large boat wakes and storms. If these islands cease to exist, birds would have to compete with humans for space on the beach.
Audubon Texas has created a new online tool you can use to explore these islands and discover how birds throughout the hemisphere use the Texas Coast. You can also see how much land will be lost if nothing is done to mitigate sea-level rise. The Texas Coastal Bird Explorer is supported by data from the Bird Migration Explorer, and also includes stories about our coastal wardens who work year-round to protect these islands and the birds that rely on them.
Audubon Texas’s formal coastal conservation work began 100 years ago. In 1923, we established our first bird sanctuaries at Green Island in south Texas’s Laguna Madre, and at the Vingt-et-un Islands (pronounced “van-toon”) in Trinity Bay near Houston. Today, Audubon Texas leases 175 islands from the state of Texas and navigation districts across the coast. These island sanctuaries are home to more than 20 species of nesting waterbirds, including the largest Reddish Egret and Roseate Spoonbill colonies in the world. The Texas coast also provides wintering grounds and stopover sites for over 98 percent of the long-distance migratory bird species in North America.
Together with our partners at Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program and with the support of volunteers, we manage these islands for erosion, marine debris and human disturbance, invasive species, and the impacts of storms, so that they can continue to support birds well into the future. What we’ve found in the process of creating the Texas Coastal Bird Explorer is that as much as 60 percent of our total island area could be impacted by sea-level rise by 2050.
While many coastal bird islands in Texas will unfortunately disappear, others like North Deer Island near Galveston, are predicted to remain but shrink in size. North Deer Island has already benefited from restoration projects that have reinforced its shoreline and which may help slow erosion at the site. However, most of the low-lying habitat will likely be submerged as sea level rises. As we see a loss of the low-lying habitat fringing bird islands, we expect to see an impact to ground-nesting species like terns, gulls, and oystercatchers first. These species will be forced to find nesting habitat on nearby beaches, where they will be forced to compete directly with humans and will also become more vulnerable to predation. Audubon Texas is working to protect our larger coastal islands and develop innovative solutions to ensure that colonial waterbirds continue to have habitat in Texas.
To start your own tour of the Texas Coast, click around the Texas Coastal Bird Explorer below, or check out the full site here. Join Audubon Texas today, and be a part of our next 100 years of conservation across the state.